How is the Bible historically true

Which stories of the Bible are historically accurate; which are based on true stories yet not literally accurate; and which could be fictional? What does your religious community teach about this – and why do they teach this way?

from Tel Aviv University International

There are three major schools of though

A. Biblical inerrancy

People in this group hold that all the stories in the Bible are historically accurate, including the lives of Adam and Eve. The hold that the Torah’s account of the Biblical patriarchs, e.g. Abraham and Sarah, and the Bible’s accounts of prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah, and persons such as King David, are accurate in detail, often down to the quotes.

B. Biblical minimalism

People in this group engage in a historical study of the land of ancient Israel, and it’s relation to stories in the Bible. They conclude that the Bible isn’t reliable evidence, in any way, for what had happened in ancient Israel. They often deny that the Israelite people even existed. Many deny that the kingdom of Israel even existed. They hold that the Bible’s stories are almost entirely later fictions, written to create a fictional past identity.

Minimalists write things like:

The Israelite nation as explained by the biblical writers has little in the way of a historical background. It is a highly ideological construct created by ancient scholars of Jewish tradition in order to legitimize their own religious community and its religio-political claims on land and religious exclusivity.
— Lemche 1998

People in the Jewish community, in particular, are concerned about biblical minimalism. Not because Judaism is theologically threatened by this – any academic can believe what they want if they are engaging in scholarship in good faith – but because in practice, biblical minimalism is often used by anti-Semites to attack the Jewish people, and the validity of the State of Israel.

Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review is one of the leading critics of the new school of biblical minimalism. In a letter first printed in Ha’aretz Magazine (Nov. 5, 1999) and later on the Biblical Archaeology Society website, Shanks writes that most Biblical minimalists are motivated not by history but rather by politics. Some of the leading Biblical minimalists are openly anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian. Many people use Biblical minimalism to promote anti-Semitism, while other people use charges of anti-Semitism in an attempt to discredit Biblical minimalists.

The scholastic position of Biblical minimalism itself is not anti-Semitic. Many Jews themselves hold this view. Some criticism of this school of thought comes about because some rabbis and scholars are concerned about the way that this position is being used to justify pseudo-historical and anti-Semitic beliefs. Other criticism comes about because the position brings cherished beliefs into question.

C. Biblical maximalism

Biblical maximalism is a historical study of the land of ancient Israel, and it’s relation to stories in the Bible. People in this group hold that the Bible does contain genuine information about the Israelites and Israel. There is no denial of the existence of the Israelite/Hebrew people , or of King David and the kingdom of Israel. They do not claim that the Bible is inerrant, but they do hold that it’s as real as can be expected from a document written in that historical era, and they hold that archaeology shows that this is so.


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  1. I don’t think these categories are entirely accurate depictions of people’s attitudes. Among the biblical inerrancy group, not everyone believes, for example, that the six days of creation are six 24-hour days. Maimonides rejects the idea that God walked on the Earth. There is essential truth and literal truth; among Jews, not many are literalists.
    Among the maximalists, plenty will say that historical truth begins somewhere around the time of King David, because there’s no evidence for anything before that. They are willing to accept the Torah narrative as a piece of evidence, but only when corroborated by other evidence. Therefore, I don’t think the term “maximalist” is fitting. While many doubted the existence of David, we are beginning to accumulate evidence for his existence. (However, the scope of his kingdom was probably much smaller than the Torah claims.)
    As for the minimalists, you seem to be describing people who reject Jewish history because it is Jewish history. It’s almost not worth including them in this article. It’s more valuable to distinguish between what you call maximalists, who are really historians who put a great deal of credence in the Torah narratives, and minimalists, who have a similar approach but put less stock in the Torah narratives.


  2. Of these 3 beliefs Biblical inerrancy is the correct one. It started with Genesis 1 and literal 6 24-hour days of creation. Any other belief is a compromise of God’s word and satanic deception


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